Some Fun Q&A
What are 3 of your favorite books?
Only 3? What torture! My earliest favorites were Miss Twiggley’s Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and The House of Thirty Cats by Mary Calhoun. I’ve had cats ever since, but no pigs.
Since then, I fell in love with Because of Winn-Dixie (and everything Kate DiCamillo has written), Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, and ... Uh-oh, that’s 6. I guess I have to stop.
What is something unusual that
makes you smile?
Seeing birds in the wild. We have some awesome varieties here in Florida. That might not seem unusual, but you haven’t been in the car with me when a red-shouldered hawk or a sandhill crane flies by. I sort-of freak out with excitement. If I’m driving, I have a hard time keeping my eyes on the road . . .
What is your favorite sport?
College basketball all the way. I didn’t play, but boy do I love to watch the game. Don’t expect to hear back from me quickly during March Madness; I’ll be parked in front of the TV working on my bracket.
What is your favorite dessert?
I’m a cookie monster. I like any type—sugar, peanut butter, oatmeal, berger, shortbread, wedding, Pfeffernüsse. Chocolate chip are the best. Eating just one is almost as hard as picking only 3 favorite books.
Where do your ideas come from?
If I stare at the blank computer screen, trying to think of something to write, my mind is usually blank too, and I end up going to the kitchen for cookies.
Ideas show up at random times, like when I’m in checkout lines, walking the dog, or sweeping the porch. I’ve learned to capture them like butterflies in a net, which means I drop everything, grab a piece of paper or my phone and write down the ideas before they get away. Then I have something to get me started when I’m looking at that blank screen again.
What’s an agent?
A literary agent helps a writer sell her books to publishers. Many publishers will only consider books by writers who have agents. But an agent can also help you understand and negotiate contracts and give you direction in your writing and marketing. It’s important to choose the right agent for you, so make sure to do thorough research if you ever want an agent.
If I want to write for children,
where should I start?
I suggest on Day One you do 3 things:
1. Buy a journal or open a file on your laptop and write something—anything.
2. From the library, check out a stack books like the ones you might like to write and study them.
3. Join the SOCIETY OF CHILDREN'S BOOK WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS. There’s an invaluable wealth of information, training, and support through SCBWI both online and in-person.
Every day after that, read and write.
Also, as soon as possible:
1. Join a good critique group
and be open to input.
2. Start educating yourself, and keep learning the craft and business, through books on writing, online resources, and workshops.
It will take time to reach your goals, but I can say from experience that the journey is worth the effort.
My Official Bio:
A writing coach to children and those who write for them, Leslie Santamaria is passionate about helping children fall in love with literature. She recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing (with a concentration in Writing for Children) from Spalding University's low-residency MFA. Leslie has written and edited for newspapers, magazines, corporations, publishers, and writers working toward publication. Her published work includes more than 200 pieces sold to periodicals such as Highlights, Spider, and Pockets, as well as a picture book, A Mother Who Prayed (Concordia Publishing House).
The Rest of My Story:
I was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, surrounded by Amish farms, windmills, and horse-drawn buggies, but I grew up mostly in Atlanta, Georgia, and Baltimore, Maryland.
In sixth-grade my teacher called me to her desk to say she couldn’t believe the story I’d written for homework was 20 pages long. Because writing was so fun, I was sure the other students had written as much, but evidently not. She praised my efforts, and my love for writing was ignited.
Here are some of my character drawings and the beginning of that untitled story.
In middle school I wrote stories in secret, too shy to share them with anyone. In high school I studied the work of John Greenleaf Whittier, my ancestor, who was a famous writer and abolitionist in the 1800s. I love how his beautiful words inspire people to think and then act on their beliefs.
At the Notre Dame of Maryland University I earned degrees in English Literature and Communications. There I wrote my first children’s story that was eventually published. To be honest, though, while I learned to appreciate lyrical language and write a decent paper, I still couldn’t tell a participial phrase from a dangling modifier.
A few years later I took a graduate-level grammar class. For four months we diagrammed sentences. That might sound like misery to you—and it was tedious work!—but it happily unlocked some of the mysteries of English for me. It launched my career as an independent editor and boosted my confidence as a freelance writer.
For years I worked as a freelance editor and journalist, but my greatest joy has been writing for children.
Here’s my office and my writing partners, Cali the tabby cat and Chip the Sheltie/Greyhound mix. I’m also part of an amazing group called the Inkstigators. We meet to critique, share information, and encourage one another.
My first book for kids, A Mother Who Prayed, was published by Concordia Publishing House. I’ve also sold children’s stories to Pockets, Spider, and Moms and Dads magazines. My dream to be published in Highlights came true with my story “The Secret of Monkey’s Umbrella.”
Now I write chapter books and middle grade novels that my fabulous agent, Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency, is busy presenting to publishers.
My husband, Harry, and I have two adult children, Melanie (who’s a teacher!) and Harry Clark. While they were young, they saw a lot of the back of my head as I sat at my computer, but I was glad for the opportunity to work from home—and thankful moms have eyes in the backs of their heads.
I think teachers are unsung heroes. They’re smart, patient, skilled, and selfless. Some who have had a great impact on me are: Ms. Francesca (6th gr); Mrs. Francis (8th gr); Mr. Schaeffer (12th gr); Miss Trueschler, Sr. Maura Eichner, and Dr. Bryan Gillespie (undergrad); all the faculty at Spalding University (grad school). Teachers Rock!